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Five reasons Capitals advanced to second round

by Katie Brown

The Washington Capitals' ability to rebound from losses during the regular season served them well in the Eastern Conference First Round. The Capitals won every game following a loss during their best-of-7 series against the New York Islanders, which Washington won in seven games.

And for the first time since 2012, the Capitals advanced to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, where they'll play the President's Trophy-winning New York Rangers.

Here are five reasons the Capitals advanced:

1. Braden Holtby -- Holtby played 73 games and had 41 wins during the regular season. In the playoffs, he's been as consistent with a 1.63 goals-against average and .943 save percentage in six games. All but two games against the Islanders were decided by more than two goals. Washington won three of the four games that were decided by one goal, a testament to the reliable goaltending at each end of the rink.

"To me it's very important, knowing that you've got a guy back there who's been doing what he's done over the whole year," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. "If you look at some of the great influences of the guys who have played 70-plus games, they've gone pretty far in the playoffs. They're used to being the guy and not always having a big game. They know that they've got to do it night in and night out. I think that's where having him play so many games is really going to help us."

2. Evgeny Kuznetsov -- Kuznetsov has three goals and four points in seven playoff games, including the game-winner in Game 7. His two goals in Game 5 propelled Washington to a 5-1 victory and a 3-2 series lead. He was the second player in Capitals history to score his first three playoff points in the same game since Sergei Gonchar on May 6, 1995. Kuznetsov transitioned from wing to center in his first full NHL season.

"[Kuznetsov] is growing," Trotz said. "He's gotten used to the League. The first 40 games it was little bit of a mishmash of up, down, and not knowing the League quite as well, maybe not as comfortable in his role. Then you sort of get through there, and there's always a glass ceiling for young players. I think he got through that and you're seeing what he's capable of, and he's a terrific player."

3. Islanders depleted defense -- The absence of defensemen Travis Hamonic for the duration of the series, and the loss of Lubomir Visnovsky and Calvin de Haan for part of the series, forced the Islanders to rely on young, untested defensemen Matt Donovan and Scott Mayfield. No Islanders defensemen scored a goal during the series and New York's stifling forecheck was neutralized by Washington. Sheltering the green defensemen meant even bigger minutes for the Islanders' top pairing of Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk. By the end of the series, Boychuk and Leddy were spent.

"We really felt like we were getting to them," forward Tom Wilson said after Game 2. "We were getting them on the forecheck, we were hitting their D, we were making their lives difficult, and that's what it takes in the playoffs. We didn't score right away, we weren't up right away, we just had to keep pounding the rock and staying on them, and it pays off in the long run."

4. Penalty kill -- Washington's penalty kill was perfect facing 14 Islanders power-play chances and is the only playoff team with a 100 percent penalty-kill rate. New York was held without a shot on its power plays in Games 6 and 7. Holtby was indisputably Washington's best penalty killer, making 21 saves while shorthanded.

"You just do the best you can to get in a shot lane," forward Jay Beagle said. "We've got a great coach who goes through our [penalty kill] in depth a lot with us. Everyone knows their job. Lane [Lambert] does a great job of breaking down their [power play] and helping everyone know what to expect, knowing what their habits are. It is everything from winning a draw, which is crucial in the D-zone, to sticking to what we've worked on all year."

5. Secondary scoring -- Forward Alex Ovechkin was held to two even-strength goals, so the Capitals found other ways to score. Defenseman Karl Alzner scored two goals, a career postseason high, and Kuznetsov scored three. Each of Washington's forward lines contributed at least one goal during the series.

"That's playoff time," Trotz said. "You're going to get a goal from someone who hasn't scored a goal all year. It's going to be Karl Alzner or Brooks Orpik or Tim Gleason when you least expect it. That's the beauty of playoffs, is that every night, there might be a new hero, there might be a new set of circumstances that change."

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